Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ghost Stories of Cedar Key

Both Cedar Key and the surrounding areas are rich in history as well as numerous stories of ghost tales and haints, many folks were steeped in superstition.

A long time ago two talented ladies teamed up and wrote a short booklet about some of them titled "Cedar Key Legends," I don't know whether or not the booklet is still available to purchase, it is great little read if you can. 

I have asked several people, and they don't know either. You might be able to get a copy through a library or get a copy at

Photo courtesy of
Carmen Day Williams 
The two ladies were Sally Tileston who was quite a talented artist, she owned and operated a local art gallery. I worked in her gallery for awhile and got to know her quite well. Sally along with Bessie Gibbs, was one of the founders of the annual Cedar Key Art Festival.

Her friend was Dorthea Comfort, and Ms. Dottie was also an artist.They had heard the stories over the years and decided to record as many of these ghost tales as possible before they were all forgotten; because most were handed down by word of mouth.

One of the stories they wrote about was also painted in watercolor by Ms. Dottie.

She titled it “The Wailing Widow”. There used to be and still might be a house in Cedar Key that had a widow’s walk that was built on top of the house, for the purpose of the lady of the house to walk around and watch for her husband’s boat coming in from the Gulf.

It was said that the widow walked around the walkway on stormy nights and wailed, mourning the loss of her husband who had been lost at sea during a storm. Many still believed this house was haunted and that her ghost still walks around the rail and wails on stormy nights..

Another ghost story is the one about the headless horseman that rides the beach at Seahorse Key on moonlight nights. 

Lafitte's Landing

The tale was told that one of the pirates (Jean Lafitte) left a treasure buried on the Island and he left a man with a horse for him to ride the beach and guard the treasure till he returned.

Someone came to steal the treasure and killed the man by decapitating him with a sword.

Several of the older fishermen would not go on Seahorse Key any night, moonlight or not, and they swore they had seen this headless horseman on moonlight nights still riding the beach.

Headless Horseman

One of the most famous tales is the lady at Shell Mound; I have heard that her name was Annie Simpson, many have also sworn to have seen her more than once. She too was connected somehow to a buried treasure.

Whether or not there is buried treasure on any of these Islands I don't know, and I am not sure that anyone else knows this for certain. I do know many have searched for it, and many tales have been told about their searches!

I used to ride with my friend Janie Robinson, at night, out to Shell Mound to pick up her husband Curley, when he came in late from crabbing. Janie claimed to have seen this lady many times, and if memory serves; the lady carries a lantern in one hand, and she has a dog with her, and sometimes a monkey, but I have never seen her.

Shell Mound view from the sky
Diana Beckham Topping
Down Home Adventure trips and tours
Janie said, “The first time I ever saw her Curley and I were going out fishing one night, and we ran aground on one of the little sandbars in the channel, I looked back to see how far we were from the beach.

Shell Mound Low Tide
Curley was overboard trying to push us off, I saw her walking down the hill when I looked back, and it scared me so bad I jumped overboard and helped Curley push us off so we could get the hell outa there!”

Many other locals claim to have seen this lady; some who claim that they had never even heard the story about this ghost before seeing her.

There are numerous other ghost stories connected to Cedar Key and other islands. There are three or four connected to the Island Hotel, which was built in 1859-60, has the Neptune Bar, Dining Room, and Rooms, they tell you in their advertisement about the Ghost Stories. 

Island Hotel Cedar Key, Florida
There was one ghost story about McClamery that my husband and the two Andrews brothers (Joe and Kenny) laid to rest one night when they were young guys fishing together at night. You will read this story "Wonder of Nature" in another place among my rambling memories.

What I have written here is only a small portion of all of the stories and tales told about ghosts and haints that surround and still haunt these Gulf Coast Islands.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The ‘50’ Hurricane

This is how this hurricane has always been referred to in Cedar Key, and still is even though it was named ‘Easy’. There are quite a few folks still living that survived this horrific storm, and they remember it well.

Rose Campbell, daughter-in-law, Ilene Campbell, Wesley Campbell her son
 and Sarah Campbell granddaughter
My sister-in-law, Ilene Campbell lived here at this time. She and her family were one of the families that lost everything. My father-in-law, H. B. Haven heard on the news that Cedar Key was getting a direct hit from the storm.

He packed as many tools, and supplies as he thought he might need and filled jugs with water and packed up food that didn't have to be cooked. He loaded as much as he could possibly get into the car and a small trailer headed out, it was quite a long trip in those days.

He was a welcome sight when he arrived at their place; they had already begun to salvage whatever they could, which was not much. He unloaded the food and water, and while everyone was eating; plans were made as to how the re-building would proceed.

Left to right
tennant, Faye and Papa Haven
It was decided that Mr. Haven would take Ilene and the children back to his home in Lake Wales for awhile, whatever the length of time this was I do not remember. Varnell, Ilene’s husband was a boat builder and a very good carpenter as well as being a local fisherman.

They began to re-build I also do not remember how long it took before they had the home rebuilt enough that the family could move back in and start over, but eventually this was accomplished.

In 1950 I was eleven years old and I lived in Holmes County, in the Florida Panhandle, but I do remember this storm, and even though we didn't get anywhere near the full brunt of it; we were effected by high winds of the outer bands.

At what point and where the hurricane was located at the time I don't know, we had very little communication from the outside world. We'd had electric lines strung through our part of the country in 1948 and we had electric lights, but had no electrical appliances.

Our only way of receiving communication was from a battery powered radio that sometimes picked up and sometimes it didn’t.

I do know that by water it is 90 miles from Cedar Key to the Saint Marks light, and from there to where I lived it is approximately 100 miles depending on the route you take by highway, however as the crow flies I have no idea, but it would likely be somewhat less.

Map of Florida

My daddy was a logger and a farmer, and he was in the woods working when the storm clouds began to appear. My mother was a very strong woman in many ways, but she was terrified of lightning and storms.

Kerosene Lamp
We hurried to bring in firewood and several buckets of water, shut the chickens in the hen house, and the animals in the barn. Make sure the lamps were filled with kerosene and the globes were clean. Mother still cooked on an old wood stove, and it is difficult to cook a meal with wet wood.

The sky began to turn a weird tin foil color with a faint yellowish tinge; Mother’s fear began to rise because she knew it was going to be a bad one. Her greatest fear was the possibility of a tornado, but she didn't tell us kids this, at least at that time.

She continued to hurry us along to get everything done that we possibly could in preparation. By the time we got it done to her satisfaction the winds were howling and the bolts of lightning were fierce and sizzling with great peals of rumbling thunder following. 

She gathered us four children into the center of the house which was just inside the door of the front bedroom.

She sat us down in a small huddle and piled mattresses on top of us. The mattresses were not heavy, she had made them with cotton from our fields, but it was dark and it got pretty hot under there, but she would not let us come out.

She walked the floor and cried out to God for our safety. I had heard my mother pray many times, but never like this! She would cry out, oh God, spare my children’s lives, if you have to take a life take mine, but please Lord, spare my children. It was a frantic and desperate prayer!

My brother Neal, four years younger than me and I have laughed and talked about this many times since, and have often wondered what in the world we would have done if we had lost our mother during that fierce storm.

Thankfully we all survived, and our home survived for many years afterwards. I think we lost some tin off the roof and we had some leaks till daddy got it repaired. I learned many years later how difficult it was for the other folks in Florida and especially Cedar Key; because later in life I lived here for thirty five years.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

1950 Hurricane Easy

Yes that really was its name; however there was nothing easy about it!

Track of Hurricane Easy
by Wikipedia

Hurricane Easy formed in the Caribbean on September 01, 1950. It was the fifth storm of the season. The 1950, 51 and 52 hurricane names were chosen from the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet. Next they were named female names, but now they have begun using male names for some, just to be ‘politically correct’.

Hurricane Easy entered the Gulf of Mexico on September 02, and then turned north, northwest. When it was west of Tampa, Florida, because of a ridge of a high pressure system to the north it caused the hurricane to do a counter-clockwise loop and it then strengthened to 125 mph. The entire west coast of Florida experienced hurricane force winds.

Wikipedia says, when it made landfall at or near Cedar Key on September 05, it had sustained winds of 125 mph a different report says 130 mph. But all of the older folks who lived there and survived it say it was a much stronger hurricane, they say it was a Cat 4. Considering all the damage that was done I have a tendency to believe the people who lived through it.

There is also another account of Easy that it says 1951, surely there were not two hurricanes named Easy two years in a row. They say on this site that the unofficial estimate was 160 to 200 mph. This account is more in agreement with what the people of Cedar Key experienced.

Wikipedia also says that it was the worst storm to hit Cedar Key in 70 years, and this I can agree with after all of the stories I’ve heard. I did not live here then, but some of the family did. I lived in the Florida Panhandle, and we had some pretty severe weather from the outer bands.

The eye of Easy was 18 to 25 miles in diameter and the eye hovered over this island fishing community for two and a half hours, and once again because of the ridge of high pressure to the north, she did a second loop, this time to the southeast making final landfall at Homosassa Springs, south of Cedar Key, but north of Tampa.

After it made landfall this time it turned to northward and slowly began to weaken in strength, it crossed the Georgia line on September 07 then headed northwest and dissipated over Arkansas on September 09.

Wikipedia says, that it was a well tracked storm from formation to dissipation by radar at the University of Florida, and Reconnaissance Aircraft. Easy left behind tremendous crop damage in the entire Tampa Bay area, and it destroyed the entire small fishing fleet of Cedar Key which consisted of about 100 boats and was the livelihood of this small island fishing village.

It also destroyed the roofs of 150 homes and buildings in Cedar Key alone, and 90 % of all the homes were damaged. Half of those homes were unfit for human habitation for quite some time. Many lost all of their furniture; and everything else because of water damage from heavy rains after the roofs were blown away.

During a 3 day period Cedar Key had 38.70 inches of rain, Yankeetown had as much in a 24 hour period and had a cumulative rainfall of 45.20. Easy still holds the record of being the wettest hurricane. There were two deaths indirectly related to this hurricane in Florida, these people were electrocuted. There were 27 people injured which was directly related to the storm.

Donax Brooms and Brushes
The Donax Broom and Brush; locals always called it the Fiber Factory was closed for two years after the hurricane before opening again because of damage to the building. The employees were out of work during this long period of time.

My husband’s grandfather, Nard Collins was a foreman at the Fiber Factory, and he was one of the employees that were out of work for two years.

Fiber Factory
Grandpa Collins Black Suit and Hat

My husband’s sister Ilene Campbell and her family were one of the families that lost everything. But in time they re-built and started over again. This is what most folks who live in coastal areas do, it is just a way of life when one chooses to live and work on the water.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Sharks Teeth Story

A cousin of mine, Page Lewis found and posted on Facebook today (some while back now) a really nice small shark’s tooth on the beach in Beaufort South Carolina. Seeing her photo jogged my memory of my own sharks’ teeth story.

When they were in the earliest stage of beginning to build the Kings Bay Submarine Base in southeast Georgia, they had to dredge the St Mary’s River a lot deeper to accommodate the larger ships and submarines that would be navigating the river into and out of the Base.

My nephew and niece, Nick and Teresa Barton were stationed there. Nick was in the Navy and Teresa worked for a construction company that was doing a lot of building on the base.

Crab Island photo by Google Earth

The spoil from the dredge was pumped onto a small island named Crab Island on the seaward side of the river, but with Stafford Island between Crab Island and the Atlantic; it was a perfect place to look for sharks teeth that had been buried in the river bed for eons of time. For a long while it was okay to boat over there and spend the day walking the island and searching for and finding sharks teeth.

Most of the larger teeth were broken when they passed through the dredge, but we found a lot of those large pieces. Sometimes those pieces were large enough we could tell the approximate size that it had been. And we found numerous smaller teeth that were in great condition.

Megladon Tooth
Photo by Wikimedia
One of my largest pieces which was almost a half of a Megladon tooth was about four inches long.

I would drive up to Kingsland to visit them as often as possible from Cedar Key. 

We would take a picnic lunch and a cooler with ice, water and sodas and make a day of it. 

It became an addiction that was also a lot of fun, good exercise, and we accumulated quite a collection! 

Bull Shark

Extinct Mako
Each of us kept the ones we found.
I gave a lot of mine away as gifts, and had a few pieces made into jewelry.

I went up to Kingsland to visit as often as possible. Eventually the channel was deep enough they brought in a submarine that was to be home ported there. It was an SSBN boat and Nick being a Missile Tech was stationed aboard her. And the rules changed.

I went up to visit one weekend and like all the other times we boated over to the island to search for black beauties,We had spent several hours searching and took our lunch break. While we were having our lunch we saw another boat approaching.

Aboard this boat were two Military Police (MP's). They asked to see our ID cards. Nick had his but neither Theresa or I had ours. The MP's informed us that we were trespassing in a restricted area. They told us they would have to escort us in.

Shortfin Mako
Tiger Shark
I was very embarrassed because I had no ID card with me. And after being married to a Submariner who served a little more than twenty years. 

I knew better than to go anywhere, and especially on a military base without it. Even though up until now it had not really seemed like a base.

I was very nervous about the situation, but I gathered my courage, and I said Sir, we did not know this is a restricted area, there are no signs posted to that effect. He replied, “Well Mam, now you know this is a restricted area, and we have to escort you in.”

I could just imagine what my husband would say when he heard the story of me being arrested on a military base for any reason. I had never been arrested for anything in my entire life, and now I have a Federal offense hanging over my head! At least a thousand negative thoughts assaulted my mind on the escorted trip back over, I thought OMG; how am I gonna get out of this mess!

They did not take us to an office, oh no, they tied up right next to the boat at the dock, and we had to come aboard their boat. I noticed that Nick opened his extra large pink and gray umbrella for a bit of shade or so I thought at the time.

I knew that I still had no ID card, even in the car because I had not brought my purse. Teresa did have her ID card in the car.

They lectured us for awhile about not trespassing in a restricted area on military bases. As we were talking and I am still protesting that it was not marked and we had no way of knowing that it was a restricted area, I noticed that Nick kept squirming around and each time he moved he made sure the umbrella was tilted between him and the boat.

I thought at the time he was just as nervous as I was, but not Teresa, it was fun for her and she was as cool as a cucumber. When she talks even in a normal tone her speech has a lot of volume.

Anyone who knows her knows this! Nick was definitely nervous, and later after they finished lecturing us they let us go and when we got back to the car I found out why he was so nervous, his reason was quite different from mine.

There were numerous sailors milling around the dock and many coming aboard or leaving the boat. He was afraid the volume of Teresa’s voice would catch their attention; and he did not want any of his shipmates that would recognize him, to see him. He would never, have lived it down. Submariners love sea stories, and this was a classic! 

I had to tell my husband, of course when I came home, and he thought it was hilarious, he laughed so hard he snorted!  


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tin Roof Shanty

I began by writing memories of stories that my Dad and Chuck had told me over the years, for my descendants. I wanted them to know something about their ancestors. Except for the stories they told me I have had to dig for the rest.

I joined and started chasing dead and living relatives, set up my Tree and began to fill in blanks. There are still blanks, and I have been at it steadily since 1996.

After Chuck passed away I just didn’t know where I belonged for a long time, and no place I tried to live satisfied. I eventually bought a derelict place on Kissmequick Island and began to rebuild it. It was a one bedroom trailer with a huge room built on. Most on my friends thought I had lost my mind.

I had it stripped out inside and put in a new bathroom, and kitchen sink and cupboards. I also had built onto it a huge deck which overlooked the Eastern Shore, the view was awesome especially the sun rises and moon rises, I had the whole place wrapped with cypress, all new windows, and a new roof over with tin.

During the process of rebuilding it, the Lord was rebuilding me. I was learning to live one day at a time without the physical presence of my husband in my life, and it was most difficult!

Before he passed on, he made me promise that I would write a book about my life and some of the things I have overcome. I had every excuse in the book and then some, but he had an answer for every one of them.

My last year in High School was 1954, I have forgotten everything I had ever learned about English, Grammar and especially Punctuation.

I did not know how to type, never learned how to in High School, I did have a typewriter with letters on the keys, but I could only do the two finger hunt and peck, still do, but I have picked up some speed with this method.

After the little cottage was finished I moved in, as my mind began to settle somewhat I filled five legal pads in cursive writing with memories. And as you write them down; more are stirred up.

I went over to Orlando, and Nick & Theresa took me shopping for a computer, very scary! Chas, one of my five granddaughters was in school at U of F came on weekends and taught me a lot.

I named my little cottage my “Tin Roof Shanty” my friend Carmen Day Williams painted this on a drift board for me and I hung it out front in a big oak tree. It was so peaceful living there I will eventually show photos. I don't have any in my computer at this time.

Brown Pelican Restaurant Dock Street
Cedar Key Florida
photo by Florida Memory

The reason I named it “Tin Roof Shanty” was a friend, John Starr living on the island at that time wrote the music for an anonymous poem that was found written on a placemat at the Brown Pelican Restaurant in Cedar Key. I had always thought that John Starr wrote the lyrics and the music, but I have been told by several that he only wrote the music.

It is a beautiful ballad of the struggle to maintain the old island ways, and flavor, with the new development that was beginning to happen.

Another friend Shelton Irwin recorded it, and it was, and is one of my favorites. After Shelton recorded it, Bertie Higgins recorded it.

Whoever wrote the poem had some personal knowledge of the people of Cedar Key and how they made their living. I for one am very grateful that it was written and put to music and recorded, for all to enjoy. 

I tried to put in a link so everyone could hear Shelton's version, but I could not get it to work. Neither could Tom who came by to help me with it.

John Shelton Irwin
performing onstage of the Gazebo
that he played and sang at various fund
raisers to help build this Gazebo in the Cedar Key Park
I just learned today 12-15-14 that Shelton passed away a couple of days ago. He was a dear friend, and will be sorely missed by many. I dedicate this story that I wrote some time ago, in memory of Shelton Irwin.

The Tin Roof Shanty is where I was living when I had the first stroke in 2002 and I had to move away. Could not go back because of health issues, and sadly;I had to sell it!

The point of this story is;  over a period of time I became addicted to writing stories. After the first stroke; writing memories became a therapy. I suppose I will continue just as long as I can because I love what I do.

I would encourage everyone who doesn't already; to write your memories of your family stories for your descendents, the stories are a storehouse of treasure.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Lighthouse

Many years ago my husband who is now deceased was a sea Captain with many years of experience and at this time he worked as the Superintendent of Marine Services for the University of Florida. 

He maintained the island called Seahorse Key which is one of the barrier islands off Cedar Key, Florida. The U of F has a Marine Biology Laboratory located there.

The base where the light sat
Diana Beckham Topping
Down Home Adventure Trips

The RV meant Research Vessel and
Western View of Seahorse Key Lighthouse
E.Lowe Pierce was the Professor who started the Marine Biology program at the U of F, and the boat was named in his honor. 

One Saturday morning we had gone out to Seahorse Reef so that he could do a little research, he was trying to plot rock piles on the chart so that he could take the students on diving trips there.

The sea was calm and we had enjoyed the time just working back and forth from 25 to 28 foot depth looking for rock piles and marking them on the chart. 

Off that portion of the central Gulf coast of Florida the depth of the water drops about a foot to the mile.

During this time we were listening to a radio conversation between a Coast Guard Vessel out of Yankeetown and a stranded fishing vessel. The stranded vessel had been to the middle grounds on a fishing trip the day before. The middle grounds are about 90 miles off shore.

When they had headed back in they got caught in a squall out of the south west and they had used up their gas supply just trying to hold the boat into the sea so as not drift farther out to sea and become totally lost at sea. They had spent the night stranded out there.

There were three men aboard the stranded vessel which was a 16 foot boat, and they kept saying they were in 28 feet of water, but that was where we were, the Coast Guard was a good distance farther south, and they were also. We had covered a lot of area between the main channel at Seahorse Key and the mouth of the Suwannee River and they were no where in sight.

About mid-afternoon the Coast Guard Vessel told them they would have to abandon the search. They could see another squall brewing far out in the south west and they too were running low on gas. They had been looking for at least three hours.

Chuck raised one of the men on the stranded vessel on the radio after the Coast Guard headed in, and he said, “The Coast Guard has abandoned their search, but we’ll see if we can help. Check your depth Gage again. We are in 28 feet of water and you are no where in sight. You have to be farther out.”

The man answered after he checked it and said, “You’re right we’re in 48 feet of water.”  But he had no idea how we would be able to find him. He had no other instruments that worked.

There was an odd shaped cloud in a clear sky, it was shaped like a Z, but looked as though it was lying partially on its side with the bottom elbow being longer and pointing downward.

Chuck described the odd shaped cloud and asked him, “Can you see it?”
The guy answered, “Yes I can.” Chuck said, “Where are you in relation to that cloud?” And he answered “That bottom elbow hanging down is directly off my stern, almost seems like it’s pointing right at me.”

Chuck told him, “Just hang in there I have a compass fix , and we’re headed that way, it will take me awhile to get to you.”  It did take us awhile because the E Lowe Pierce was not a fast running boat. It was well over an hour before we spotted them. Chuck threw them a line when we were close enough, and invited them to come aboard; but they opted to stay aboard their boat in tow.

Chuck said, “You’re in for one rough ride if you stay aboard because it’s gonna get
Lightning Bolts
rough”. But they decided to stay aboard anyway. And we headed back in with them in tow. We’d been running about 45 minutes and then we began to see the storm moving in. 

The sky turned very dark and we could literally see lightning bolts striking the water and shooting sprays of water upwards and outwards.

It got darker and darker. And it got rougher and rougher as the storm overtook us. There is no light in the Lighthouse at Seahorse Key anymore, but Thank God I know that Jesus is my lighthouse so I was praying. 

It was raining so hard and it was so dark Chuck could not see; he was running by his instruments. He would tease, “You keep talking to Jesus, Baby Love and I’ll keep this Caterpillar running”. He was referring to the diesel engine.

Across the sky Lightning
The lightning changed from striking bolts to awesome streaks across the sky, but it got rougher,  at times we were diving the bow under; the sea water would wash over the windshield and the top of the cabin and run off the stern.

He kept his course steady and ran by his instruments. My husband was so at home when he manned the helm of a boat; it seemed as if the boat was an extension of his body.

At long last we could see the entrance buoy light of North West Channel, which lies between Seahorse Key and North Key. In that kind of total black darkness even the faintest light seems like a beacon, we knew for certain we were on course and would soon be home.

View from the air of
Seahorse Key

It calmed somewhat when we got inside behind the islands, and the going was easier. When we finally tied up to the dock about 10:30 that night and the men were getting off their boat one of them said to me, “Lady I don’t know who is running that boat, but I can tell you for sure that he knows what he’s doing.”

I said, “Yes sir he is a very able seaman, but one greater than him brought us in tonight.” And he chuckled and answered, “Yes mam, I agree and I made Him a solemn promise that if He would help me get my feet back on solid ground; He wouldn't ever have to worry about me being out yonder again!”

This story can very easily be related to spiritual darkness.  When one walks in spiritual darkness, a new born babe in Christ can seem like a beacon to you. A lot of people who walk in spiritual darkness are looking for light whether they realize it or not.

Just as we kept peering through the windshield looking for the entrance buoy light, they too are seeking for light to enter; the light that shines through his people is Jesus; the Light of the world. Those who walk in darkness are looking for the Jesus Light in you, so let your light shine!